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Word order, part 1

One of my readers have challenged me with a question about word order:

“I know word order might be boring… but I cannot find anywhere an easy to understand explanation or chart…

Not just huvudsats, but I mean word order in a sentence when it starts with a question or bisats ord and combinations…and then of course the word order changes… but when does it change and why does it change.”

Word order is a quite complex thing, so I will write several posts about this to guide you through step by step.

We will start with word order, or sentence structure if you prefer, in main clauses (in Swedish “huvudsats”). But, what is a main clause then? It is so to speak a complete or independent sentence. We have four types of main clauses:

1. Statements

På söndagar går jag och fikar med mina kompisar.

(On Sundays I meet my friends for coffee.)

2. Questions beginning with a question word

När kommer du hem?

(When are you coming home?)

3. Questions beginning with a verb – yes/no-questions

Kommer du på mötet i morgon?

(Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?)

Kan du komma på mötet i morgon?

(Can you come to the meeting tomorrow?)

4. Requests and orders

Öppna fönstret, är du snäll!

(Open the window, please!)

So now when we now what a main clause (huvudsats) is, we are going to see how it can be constructed. A main clause an be very simple or very complex, we will here start with a simple one and step by step add more parts.

Hon äter.

(She is eating/she eats.)

This is the most simple way to construct a sentence in Swedish, first comes the subject and after that a verb in present tense.  Now we can add another part – an object – to our sentence:

Hon äter glass.

(She is eating/eats ice cream.)

Now, let’s ad a word for place:

Hon äter glass i parken.

(She is eating/eats ice cream in the park.)

And why not have an expression for time as well:

Hon äter glass i parken på sommaren.

(She eats ice cream in the park in the summertime.)

And a sentence adverbial:

Hon äter alltid glass i parken på sommaren.

Our main clause construction now looks like this:

subject + verb + sentence adverbial + object + place + time

We can also if we want put the object, the place or the time in first position:

Glass äter hon alltid i parken.


I parken äter hon alltid glass.


På sommaren äter hon alltid glass.

As you can see, and as many of you probably heard before, the verb stays in its place even if we change the word/words in first position. In a Swedish grammar mind (if there is such a thing 😉 ) the first spot of the main clause is considered “the base” and we are free to place almost whatever we want there, but we have to keep the verb (verb in present or simple past) in the second spot. If we follow English word order and say

“På sommaren, hon äter alltid glass.”

it sounds like “the summer” and “she always eats ice cream” are two separate things, like if they had nothing to do with each other. It almost sounds like you start saying one sentence and then start over with another one.

Questions starting with a question word actually follows the same pattern as the statements:

Vad äter du?

For English speaking people it might be interesting to look at the fact that Swedish does not have a do/does-construction for questions. So, the question above actually translates to “What eat you?”. The question word is in position number 1, it is our base, the verb comes second and, since we don’t have the subject in position one it ends up after the verb. If we construct a yes/no-question there are two ways to look at it.

Äter du glass?

Either you could consider the first spot empty:

base         verb        subject    object

Äter       du              glass?

Or you could look at it as if you had just switched spots with the statement:

Du äter glass.

Äter du glass?

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, word order is a very complex thing so I will continue with the subject in later post.

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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5 responses to “Word order, part 1”

  1. Rachel says:

    I just want to thank you so much for your wonderful explanation! I am looking forward to the other parts in the future. Without a good knowledge of how things work, then it becomes impossible to improve and begin to piece together your own thoughts in a sentence.

    Thank you for helping me to really get to grips with this topic! I especially like how you break it down into steps with clear explanations. I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was in SFI…

    Thank you again for all that you post here!


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  2. Justin says:

    Hej Sara,

    I’m Justin, and I live in London.

    Five days ago I discovered your Swedish language notes, and I’m overjoyed with what you have written. Discovering you blog just made my day so special! Thank you for writing such clear and interesting notes on all the points of Swedish language you mentioned. The topics you covered have helped me enormously, and I like the tests you have made at the end of the topics.

    I’m currently working through the topics you covered, so I have a fair bit to keep me occupied for the time being. I’m excited about seeing more topics mentioned in your blog (especially keen to know more about word order!).

    Sara, you are a superstar!


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  3. Angela X. says:

    Hey Sara!

    Thank you so much! I was already losing my mind… and faith!
    I have learned more in these 3 days reading your blog than the whole year in Komvux. My teacher is the nicest person but she can’t find reasons to explain, she only says “it doesn’t sound right”.

    Anyway, just thank you, thank you very much!

    Report abuse »

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